FLP Launch 1985

Peace - Justice - Freedom - Democracy

 



Home Bavadra's Legacy FLP Launch 1985

 

A VISION IS BORN 1985 - 1986

Our Party is for the ordinary people, for you and for me

Presidential Address on the occasion of the Launching of the Fiji Labour Party, Suva
July 6, 1985

Following his election as the Fiji Labour Party's first President, Dr. Timoci Bavadra delivered this address to a capacity crowd of trade unionist, workers, academics and professionals at the Fijian Teachers' Association Hall. During the rally, the Party adopted its Constitution and elected its first office bearers.

Even through the idea of launching a Labour Party in Fiji has been around for a long time, it has taken the current economic crisis and the present government's failure to cope with it, to make the party a reality.

As the economic crisis worsened through the late 1970s and early 1980s, the unions tried their best to work with the government in seeking equitable solutions. The unilateral imposition of the wages freeze late last year indicated clearly that the government was no longer willing to discuss matters with the representatives of the workers.

As responsible trade unionists, we felt compelled to react strongly to government policies that threatened the well being of our members and, indeed, of all Fijian citizens. We recognised it was time for workers to from their own political party.

The Fiji Labour Party intends to provide a real alternative to the political groups that currently dominate the affairs of our country. At the heart if this is a commitment to democratic socialism. In seeking ways to overcome the many problems that face our nation, we are determined to ensure that development policies serve the interests of the people.

We must work to ensure that our party is not just a party of unionists or of members of only one segment of society. It must be a party for all our people, no matter where they live, what their race, or how they earn a living. To make this a reality will be no easy task. It will mean that those of us in the trade union movement will have to work with others and that we must strive to overcome divisions within the union movement itself. In developing the Party, we must involve as many people as possible to seek to make sure that all segments of our society have a real voice in it. In this regard, special care must be taken to provide a voice for the many elements that have not had a say in shaping the affairs of our nation

What has become increasingly apparent is that a tremendous gap exists between the ruling party's rhetorical claims to serving the interests of the people, and its policies.

Whether one be a civil servant, cane farmer, copra cutter or urban labourer, it is obvious that the government is not doing enough and that it has become increasingly distant from everyone. Our aim is to provide a real alternative, to create a political force that truly represents, and is responsive to, the needs, aspirations and will of the people. Our aim is the creation of a true democracy in this country.

Let me now address some specific issues.

One of the most pressing problems of the nation at this moment is the slow pace of economic development and the inequitable distribution of its benefits. The colonial social and economic structures that the Alliance government inherited at independence have been little altered. The alliance government has been satisfied to let things run along much as they always have. Where its leaders have shown fresh initiative, this has been merely to improve their own lot and that of their friends. As the economic crisis has worsened over the past few years, the Alliance has proved unable and unwilling to confront the problems head on. It has sought to blame others.

What action needs to be taken to promote more equitable economic development? A key issue is unleashing the tremendous productive potential of our people and environment. Policies to date have in fact all too often served more to stifle this potential. Commonly, this has been a result of the self-serving attitude of those at the top who have through only of encouraging production where they themselves stand to benefit directly, even if this means greater suffering for a large number of people.

I'm sure that everyone hare is aware of the many occasions when those in power have undermined constructive measures taken by civil servants, private citizens, or non-governmental organizations. To take just one example, the government has done relatively little to support the efforts of church organizations to help the underprivileged. This reflects the government's lack of commitment to providing services fro the poor. Relying on kinship obligations is no solution to the growing poverty in our country. Tangible benefits must be provided for the poor. Increasingly, the largest segment pf those who are poor is unemployed youth. A great deal more must be done to encourage projects in villages and towns which will help the youth. Moreover, the youth and the poor in general must have a greater voice at all levels of society to ensure that their aspirations and talents are adequately catered for. At the national level, this initiative should include the lowering of the voting age to 18.

Also of importance is the land question. It is a topic that most politicians have been afraid to confront. Yet, clearly we must come to terms with the many problems in the way our land is used or not used, in how benefits are distributed, and in how decisions are made about its use. One of the key institutions that must be dealt with is the Native Lands Trust Board. The NLTB must be democratised so that that it comes to serve the interests of all Fijians and not just the privileged few and their business associates. In addition, more effort must be made to see that those whose land is being leased, enjoyed a greater proportion of rental revenue from the NLTB.

It is impossible to see how the present level of administrative levies are justified on the basis of the few services provided. If the NLTB is o take the money it does, it must do more fro the people it is supposed to be serving. It is timely that steps be taken to review the system of rental distribution so that all Fijians, not just a few, benefit. In addition, a great deal more must be done to enable our people to increase the productivity of their land. More services and better infrastructure must be provided. This may be difficult, but ways must be found.

While doing our utmost to improve things in the rural areas, we must not overlook the urban centres. Greater attention to urban planning is called for. Better provision of housing for the urban poor is a pressing problem. Allied to this, is the question of industrialisation. It is important that we produce more of the products that we consume, and that we increase our exports of manufactured goods. In promoting industrial growth, however, we must strive to avoid the horrors that have accompanied urban industrial growth in so many parts of the world: the slums and sweatshops. The rise of sweatshop labour in our urban centres must be dealt with, and promptly, before the standards we have achieved over the years are completely eroded. We must not be fooled into thinking that acceptance of low wages is necessary if we are to develop our industries.

At the outset, I stated that the Labour Party was committed to the principles of democratic socialism. One aspect of this concerns the question of control and ownership of our industries. It is significant that our largest industry, sugar, is state-owned. Moreover, this state-owned body is regarded by many as one of the most efficient of its type in the world. We can also reflect with pride on our international airport, which having been taken over from foreign corporate interests, is now managed by the airport workers themselves with state assurance. It is run efficiently and contributes considerable national wealth which would otherwise be repatriated overseas.

I would not call for the nationalisation of all our industries, but there are areas where public ownership may well be warranted in the national interest. One of these areas is the bus industry. Public transport is simply too important a service in our poor country to be left entirely to private hands. Another industry is the gold mine at Vatukola. The existence of an almost sovereign entity in our nation is an embarrassment to us all. It is impetrative that the worse abuses at the mine be eliminated and that we acquire control over such an important industry.

In addition to nationalisation, we should also pursue greater use of joint-venture arrangements. Such arrangements, however, must clearly be made in the interest of our people, not purely for the benefit of foreign business. One area where there is considerable scope for this is tourism. It is incredible this vital industry. The token gestures to local participation are simply not adequate. We must increase our control of large tourist facilities on the one hand, and seek to promote smaller, nationally-owned facilities on the other. Another point, we must lift the ban on Soviet cruise ships. Such a ban in no way serves the national interest.

We should not only be concerned with improving economic performance. We must also strive to enhance the overall quality of life within existing economic constrains, and to promote popular participation in national affairs. Increasing freedom of expression and freedom of access to information should be high on our list of priorities. In regard to first point, we need to encourage the publication of more newspapers, books and articles, and to expend radio services. We need to improve the flow of information to all levels of our society. Our citizens must be made more aware of the world around them.

Education is an issue that has generated a lot of heat in recent years. Our unions have been at the forefront of the flight to save our educational system from being seriously undermined by shortsighted government policies. We are very aware that education costs money, and that sacrifices may have to be made. But the government seems intent on inflecting this burden on the poor. We believe that the ideal of free education must become a reality through government subsidisation of books, bus fares, and other necessary items.

The recent proposal of a government-sponsored report to raise the school entry age must be resisted. On the contrary, educational benefits should be made available to younger, including preschool, children. Raising the school age will hurt the poor most, and women in particular because of their traditional role in childcare.

On the matter of industrial relations, we are all aware of moves by the government to cultural union freedoms. This must be confronted. We call for legislation that strengthens the rights and freedoms of workers. Something must be done to amend the repressive provisions of the Trade Disputes Act.

The welfare of unorganised workers, including the large number of female domestic workers, also urgently needs our attention. Legislation to give them the same benefits as organised workers must be a priority. Those of us who are in the union movement and who employ domestic must look critically at our own treatment of them. It is up to us to set an example. We should ask ourselves whether we would find the terms and conditions of their employment acceptable for our own members. Reform is also needed in the area of workers' compensated and safety standards in the workplace. There must be more rigorous inspection of work places, and stricter legislation.

Another area of public life that we must address is corruption. A code of conduct for our leaders could be a start; but much more needs to be done. Legislation, such as the Companies Act, must be tightened to allow for the detection of corrupt practices and for the prosecution of those responsible. We must create a more independent judiciary - one that is free from political patronage. Our internal security system must not serve the interests of those in power, but the welfare of all our people.

In health matters, emphasis should be places on the development of primary health care. In services training at our medical and nursing schools should be strengthened to ensure that both the quality and the number of graduates and postgraduates are adequate for our health needs. The quality of patient care provided by medical, nursing and ancillary staff in hospitals should also be priority. A greater rationalisation of private and public sector health services is needed.

A national population policy should be formulated to give direction to family planning initiatives. We welcome the support and assistance if international organizations in promoting the health of our people. We will strive to strengthen our relationship with them.

A majority of our women and youth have been forced to live a marginalised existence because of the shortcomings of present government policies. The lack of a minimum wage in the manufacturing sector has meant that a large number of women are working long hours, performing repetitive menial jobs, with very low wages. The necessity to earn a living compels these women to tolerate such appalling conditions. In their desperation, they are constrained from exercising their fundamental rights as workers, including their right to join a union. Women destitutes with children in urban areas should be given an adequate allowance by the state. It should be sufficient to cover the cost of basic necessities like school uniforms, school bus fares, and school lunches.

Government funding should also be made available to community organizations such as the YMCA, YWCA and the Salvation Army to enable them to enable them to expend their services. This would cater for the unemployed youths, the dropouts and exprisoners, who want to make good. A proper counselling service should be instituted, supported by library services, sports gyms, and courses in handicrafts, income-generating projects, creative dancing, art etc.

Finally, there is the matter of foreign affairs. It has become all too apparent in recent years that our foreign policies are determined by a handful of individuals. There is little discussion on them in Parliament, and no attempt to sound out the thoughts of the people. Foreign policy is too important a matter to be left in the hands of a few.

We believe it is in national interest to pursue and active policy of non-alignment. We have become the client state of certain foreign powers; and this is definitely not in our interest. A policy of non-alignment should guide our support for the struggles of ordinary people around the world against oppression. We must seek to develop our economic relations with a broader range of countries, while refusing to allow ourselves to be the pawns of foreign powers. Two areas which demand a principled stand are the nuclear-free Pacific movement and the decolonisation of our island neighbours.

Something should also be said about our military forces which are in danger of becoming little more that a band of mercenaries. This is unfortunate in the light of our long and proud military tradition. Again, we must see to it that our military serves our own needs, and not the interest of others. In return, we must provide assistance in the form of pensions to those who have served the country.

In closing, I would like to reiterate our commitment to improving the conditions of the disadvantaged groups within our society which include the urban and rural poor, the destitute, the returned soldiers and old age pensioners, women and youth. They have been neglected for far too long, and have suffered the worst effects of the wage freeze and the rising costs of essential goods and services like food and bus fares.

Our party is for the ordinary people, for you and foe me. It is for workers: those on the farm and in the factories, the organised and unorganised, those in towns and villages, the self-employed and wage earners, men and women alike.

We dedicate ourselves to this mission!


back to top
 
 

Fiji Labour Party
P. O. Box 2162
Suva, Fiji
Phone 330-5811, Fax (++679 330-5317
E-mail:
Interim webmaster